Thursday, June 25, 2015

The 2015 CIVA Conference: sharing the High Points

I was able to attend the CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) 2 weeks ago at Calvin College, in Grand rapids Michigan. Due to time, money, and locations I haven't been able to participate but one other time...about 35 years ago when it was also held at Calvin College! It's a bi-annual get together of Christian artists from all over the US and Canada. What was unique about this particular conference was it inclusion of topics on theology which catered to pastors, church leaders, and scholars. This broader focus brought in a wide range of speakers and discussion panel members (you can go online and see the specific names, like Calvin Seerveld, etc.). (the 2015 CIVA Conference)

The schedule for the three plus days was demanding and choices had to made about which afternoon sessions to attend (like I wanted to see more than one each!). Below, I've included some of my key inspirations, notes, and thoughts. It's a little mixed up and I failed to list the speakers for each session. Hey, just pick out what is impactful to you. Sorry, I didn't think of bringing a camera...and my flip phone takes lousy pictures.

“Between Two Worlds: Contemporary Art and the Church”

Thursday night
Q&A #1, what was it like being a Christian artist when CIVA start in the late 70’s?
- A Christian worldview must be practical.
- Reformed Theology is a natural partner for the visual arts. Art/creativity is a gift from God.

Q&A #2, can a Christian contribute to contemporary art without it being “modern” (ie, the philosophical concept as compared to the art movement).
- A Christian’s artist doesn’t need to be overtly Biblical or convey a Biblical narrative.
- Redemptive art is used by God to redeem part of humanity.
- The Christian artist needs to discover the design and context vocabulary to speak Christianly through their artwork.
- What are some goals for current Christian artists to pursue? Focus on your faith, be passionate about your work, and study art history.
- The Bible has more to say about “images” than art as a concept. In fact, the Bible deals extensively with images and is therefore linked to the visual arts.

Best personal point: The artist who is truly passionate about making art will pursue projects that don’t necessarily gratify them personally. It means to enthusiastically taking an assignment that you may “hate”.

Morning Session: Contemporary Art and the Church
Seeking to define what the church and contemporary art is, given the record of art history.
The word “between” refers to the space where conflict, overlap, and blending take place. These two spheres are not interchangeable. Posture is just as important as content. The Christian artist is bilingual and bilateral. There are two different narratives, values, and objectives. Effective communication can come about only if illiteracy, on both sides, is dealt with properly. Once an attempt has been made to reconcile the two camps, seek out “ambient content”. Don’t worry about the distinctions, but work on the definitions and the posture.
The interrogative posture is to ask honest questions. The church comes from the posture of a pilgrim; we’re just passing through. While the world sees this life as all that there is.
Neither camp is a closed set. They are centered sets with strong gravitational energy. They are each cultural sets. And it is in the arena of criticism where the conversation will take place or not.
It is unproductive to approach the worlds with “word pairs” (eg, “I and you”, or “me and it”). rather, address the work; is it worthy of a response? Host opportunities for the conversation rather than focusing on the distinctions and creating division. What is the common ground of belief, rather than what is not held in common.

Afternoon session 1A: Art’s Witness to the More
- We, as Christian artists, are to use grace and hospitality in reaching out to the world. It’s like Daniel and his three friends living with Yahweh in Babylon.
- let’s consider the missional community in this endeavor.
- we are free to use metaphor and symbolism as the Bible does without having to communicate or translate such in a direct way.

Afternoon session 1B: Theology and the Visual Arts
- liturgy and repetition, along with metronomic time, even as represented in the Mass, becomes an example of systolic time. Whatever we do in this systolic way is worship, no matter what the pattern: eating, watching programs on TV, having sex, etc.).
- phenomenology has to do with the quality of space.
- effectiveness of using performance art. My criticism: rather than focusing on a negative connotation (ie, cutting something down, emphasizing what’s wrong with America, etc., or being “anti-this-or-that”), how about present something positive (ie, promote something like the fruit of the Spirit, virtue, honor, truth, justice, devotion, faith, etc.).
- performance art was used a lot in the Old testament through prophets like Ezekiel,, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Jonah.
- repetition has the danger of becoming empty ritual or can become a useful tool for meditation.

Evening Session*: Visual Art and Corporate Worship/Contemplation
Depth of meaning in the visual arts can be illustrated through a semiotic chart: symbol, then icon (representation), then, the most direct, index (result, affect, imprint).
            Qualities of the visual image consist of 1) simultaneity, 2) permanence, and 3) monumentality. There can also be a meaningful comparison between syntagm (sequential relationship) and paradigm.
- Contemporary art is dialectical, marked with an ongoing process of personal and social spiritual development.
- sacred art is primarily “index” and impactful, not through an emphasis on technical or skill level, but on context.
- how do we invent or reclaim corporately shared making and looking at art?
- Christian worship is both based on presence and narrative (story or illustration). The impact of visuality needs to begin with presence; otherwise the congregation will stop with the story

*Some of these notes came from the 2nd morning session.

Saturday morning session: Contemporary art as community outreach
Evangelism through intriguing image and design.
Testimonials of effect outreach programs, for the down & out, unsaved, and struggling artists, especially in the inner-city.

Afternoon Session 2: what is the relationship between theology and contemporary art?
- Moses and the burning bush. Moses looks once and then “sees” it, through contemplation. God uses images for relational purposes.
- Light reveals art and allows for communion.
- St. Augustine believed in 3 types of sight: corporeal (retinal function), spiritual (emotional and psychological), and intellectual (begins the eternal realization).
- The mode of art is always significant.
- The world cannot and never will be able to provide resolve or even meaningful contemplation concerning death. All the world can do is recognize the problem. They have no solution. While Christianity has the answer.
- Creativity requires parameters, challenges, or restrictions…otherwise the art will be nothing more than self expression.